Mankato to convert final 186 sodium street lights to LED
A worker removed an old-style streetlight on Blue Earth Street in preparation for replacing it with high-efficiency LED illumination in 2017. Mankato converted more than 900 city-owned streetlights that year, but nearly 200 were left without upgrades. That’s expected to change next year.
MANKATO — How many public and private entities does it take to change 2,116 light bulbs?
At least seven.
And it will have taken about eight years in all to swap out all of those old-style streetlights across Mankato with high-efficiency LED lights.
It was the summer of 2017 when a private electrician contracting with the city finished changing out 914 municipally owned streetlights from high-pressure sodium bulbs to light-emitting diodes. Xcel Energy did the same starting later that summer with the 1,016 streetlights it owns in Mankato.
Now, a federal grant is coming Mankato’s way to replace the remaining 186 sodium streetlights with LED fixtures.
“A majority of the system has been done,” said Assistant City Engineer McCarty, who believes the 186th will be the last of the old-fashioned municipal streetlights to blink out of existence. “It should be, unless there’s one that’s hiding out there on us.”
Both the city and Xcel had environmental and financial incentives to switch to LED lights. They’re more efficient and use less electricity to provide better lighting of the streets and sidewalks below. They’re also longer lasting, reducing how often the bulbs need to be changed from about five years to about 15, according to Xcel.
But the way the city financed the switch was somewhat convoluted and prompted the delay in finishing the job. A private firm, Ameresco Inc., covered the expense of the 2017 project and numerous other efficiency upgrades across city-owned property in return for a cut of the energy and water savings. The 186 old lights were left out of the Ameresco efficiency program by the 2016 City Council, partly because the additional expense related to adding electrical meters and power feeds on those lights would have forced the city to chip in roughly $200,000 in upfront dollars.
So for another six years, the lights have continued to provide their orange-tinted illumination for segments of Victory Drive, Balcerzak Drive, Highland Avenue/Cedar Street, Hoffman Road, North Riverfront Drive, Bassett Drive, Madison Avenue and a few other spots.
What it took to finish the job was a small piece of the $1.2 trillion bipartisan infrastructure bill passed by the 2021 Congress. Part of the money in the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act was targeted to the Carbon Reduction Program, which provides grants to road-related energy efficiency across the country — $170,000 a year to the Mankato-North Mankato Area Planning Organization each year through 2026.
Under the program, winning applicants have to pay just 20% of the cost of a project to reduce fossil fuel use. The grant covers the rest. Minnesota State University was the local recipient last year, earning an $82,000 grant to cover 80% of the cost of replacing a 10-year-old diesel-powered campus shuttle bus with an electric-powered van.
For fiscal year 2024, Mankato’s streetlight proposal was the only applicant for the MAPO funds — receiving $144,000 in federal dollars for the $180,000 project.
The work is projected to be completed in 2024, but it will depend on when the federal funds arrive, McCarty said. Unlike road construction, the installation of the new lighting isn’t dependent on warmer weather.
“Most of the work can even be done over the winter,” he said.
Along with providing energy savings and less-frequent maintenance, the new fixtures will actually do their job better than the previous ones, McCarty said. The new lamps — which replace a single high-pressure sodium bulb with multiple light-emitting diode bulbs — emit a whiter hue and are better at focusing the light downward with less light pollution spilling into adjoining properties.
Because the Carbon Reduction Program allows unused funds to carry over to the next fiscal year, the $114,000 in available funding that wasn’t allocated in grants in the first two years will be available for MAPO to award in fiscal years 2025 and 2026, according to memos to the MAPO Policy Board. That will be on top of the $170,000 already available for each of those two years.
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